The 7 Best Mini PCs of 2021

The best compact options for business, gaming, streaming, and more

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The Rundown
"Apple's Mac mini has got a lot of power to spare."
Best for Business:
HP ProDesk 400 G5 at Amazon
"This machine has lots of I/O with several ports on the front, making it convenient to use someplace where there's a lot of churn."
"This 'Next Unit in Computing' blows all previous generations out of the water in terms of its sheer power."
"MSI's Trident X Plus is a full-blown gaming rig that can play the hardest core games you can imagine."
Best Rapberry Pi:
Raspberry Pi 400 at Amazon
"The Raspberry Pi 400 has a cool amount of power built into one of the most transportable mini PCs in the market."
"If you want a mini PC but want to dictate the components inside including storage and RAM, ZOTAC's ZBOX CI622 is a good option."
"Acer has been a champion of Chrome OS since early days, so it's no surprise that it made a mini PC with the operating system."

The best mini PCs of 2021 are all solid options. Gone are the days where you have to buy a huge computer tower to get huge computer power. It used to be that mini PCs were relegated to the low-end, cheap computers with which you could only surf Facebook. Today's mini PCs can pack a lot into their tiny frames. They don't take up much desk space. You can toss one into a backpack and set it up anywhere you have a monitor, mouse, and keyboard. In some extreme cases, you can even take the mouse and keyboard with you as well.

Small size doesn't necessarily equal small power. Indeed, most of these mini PCs are mini only in stature. They'll have more than enough power to get you through your day and handle most tasks with aplomb. So, if a mini PC is for you, read on and find the one you've been waiting for.

Best Overall: Apple Mac mini (M1, 2020)

Mac mini
What We Like
  • Good price

  • Fast

  • Rosetta 2 for compatibility

What We Don't Like
  • Not a lot of I/O

  • Expensive to upgrade

  • Requires wired hardware at first

Apple made a splash in late 2020 when it unveiled its new M1 processor, based on ARM technology. Apple showed its powerful new silicon and how compatible it could be with older Intel-based apps with its Rosetta 2. This unveiling resulted in the Mac mini, and it's got a lot of power to spare.

There isn't as much I/O as previous models, but you still get an HDMI out, two USB Type-A ports, and two Thunderbolt USB Type-C ports. One oddity is that you need to have a wired keyboard and mouse plugged in before you'll be able to set up a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Plus, while the base model of this computer starts at around $700, it gets expensive fast, and you cannot add memory to the device later. All the same, this is one of the best mini PCs you can buy right now.

"The Mac mini seems to do the impossible in both bringing down the price and massively improving performance compared to its predecessor." Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Best for Business: HP ProDesk 400 G5

What We Like
  • Inexpensive

  • Lots of USB ports

  • I/O on the front

  • Easy to upgrade

What We Don't Like
  • No wireless connectivity

  • Included peripherals are bad

The HP ProDesk 400 is a great little machine with lots of I/O, including several ports on the front of the device. That makes it convenient to use in an environment when there's a lot of churn, like people plugging in their own peripherals. If you're looking for a business machine for a company with an IT department, this might be a good option for you. The computer comes with a mouse and keyboard, but they won't win any awards on their own. An IT department, however, could easily swap stuff like this.

The inexpensive package is not without its drawbacks. There is no wireless connectivity, meaning no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. You can add modules that would allow them, but that's where the IT department comes into play. The computer is easily upgradable, with all the components easily accessible, but it takes a practiced hand to do it right.

"The HP ProDesk 400 excels at everyday productivity tasks thanks to its Intel Core i5 CPU." — Emily Ramirez, Product Tester

Best Kit: Intel NUC 9 Extreme NUC9i9QNX

Intel NUC 9 Extreme NUC9i9QNX
What We Like
  • Expensive

  • Neat design

  • Very customizable

What We Don't Like
  • Can be set only upright

  • Some assembly is required

Intel doesn't build only computer processors; it also builds mini PCs. Dubbed the "Next Unit in Computing," or NUC, Intel was one of the pioneers in the mini PC category. But this NUC blows all previous generations out of the water in terms of sheer power, and it has a price tag to match. The NUC is sold as a kit you can assemble yourself or as a custom kit sold by a vendor. You can add your own hard drive, memory, or even a graphics card if you want. It has a neat design optimized for air flow, but the limitation there is you can only set the NUC down upright. Placing the computer on its side impedes air flow and starts to cook the machine's insides.

All told, this mini PC is capable of some impressive things considering it diminutive size. Mini PCs as a rule are typically not easy to upgrade, but the NUC bucks that trend with its modular design. You can add whatever SSD, HDD, RAM, or graphics card will fit. If you've ever wanted a gaming rig that you could throw into a bag, this is the one.

Best for Gaming: MSI Trident X Plus 9SF-040US

MSI Trident X Plus 9SF-040US High-End Small Form Factor
What We Like
  • Power to spare

  • Ample storage

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Large for a "mini" PC

MSI is one of the premiere gaming computer manufacturers out there, and it too has an offering in this space. "Mini PC" might be a bit of a misnomer in this case, since the computer measures 15 x 15 x 5 inches. That's small by PC standards, but gargantuan compared to other mini PCs. Plus it's expensive, which is hard to wrap your head around until you consider what you're getting.

This mini PC is a full-blown gaming rig that can play the hardest core games you can imagine. VR headset? No problem. As long as you have a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, you can do anything you want. With 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD and a 2TB hard disk drive, this PC has enough storage and power to do anything you need. It's small but mighty indeed.

Best Rapberry Pi: Raspberry Pi 400

Raspberry Pi 400
What We Like
  • Great introduction to the Raspberry Pi

  • All built into the keyboard

  • Helpful community

What We Don't Like
  • Limited applications

If you've been in the tech community for any amount of time, you've probably heard about the Raspberry Pi. A Raspberry Pi is basically a tiny, cheap computer on a circuit board that you can use for projects such as smart home automation, security cameras and automatic door latches. They're versatile and cheap, which is perfect for makers, but they were limited to makers.

The Raspberry Pi 400 is designed for everyone as a mini PC in a keyboard form factor. While the technology is much more accessible, it also limits the potential of the Raspberry Pi. One of the great things about the Raspberry Pi is its versatility. You can put a circuit board into a box to make a lid that opens itself. But you can't stick a keyboard in there.

Taken at face value as its position in the mini PC market, this is a neat device with a great community dedicated to helping you complete your projects. Taken as a Raspberry Pi, this form factor isn't the best because of the large size. But on its own, as a mini PC, it's a cool amount of power built into one of the most transportable mini PCs in the market.

"Whether you want to learn programming, create a gaming system, create a streaming system, or get into 3D modeling, the Pi 400 is a good starting point." Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Best Compact: ZOTAC ZBOX CI622

What We Like
  • Handy labels on ports

  • Stylish design

  • Tool-less access to parts

What We Don't Like
  • No HDD or SSD/RAM in some configurations

If you want a mini PC but want to dictate the components inside including the storage and RAM, the ZOTAC ZBOX CI622 is a good option. This machine is just such a PC. It's tiny and in its base configuration, there is no hard drive, memory, or operating system included.  You can tinker away at it and build the perfect machine for you. There are seven USB ports, six of which support USB 3.1. Each port is labelled as well, which is quite handy. 

You can order this PC in configurations that include storage and RAM, but the fun is in building it yourself. You get tool-less access to the inside of the box for easy upgrading. Overall it has a nice, stylish design that's easy to appreciate. You can lay the computer down, hang it up, or even mount it on a wall — just another way that its versatility shines.

Best Chromebox: Acer Chromebox CXI3

Acer Chromebox CXI3
What We Like
  • Fast

  • Compact

  • VESA mount

What We Don't Like
  • Chrome OS limitations

Chrome OS did not get left out of the mini PC game. Our old friends at Acer provide the Chromebox CX13 that makes this list. Acer has been a champion of Chrome OS since early days, so it's no surprise that it made a mini PC with the operating system. This has a neat and compact design and even includes a VESA mount, which corresponds to the mounting pins on the backs of monitors. You can mount your mini PC to the back of your monitor and turn into an all-in-one PC

Of course, for any of this to be useful, you have to want to use Chrome OS, which is a nice operating system, but it's not for everyone. Chrome OS can make the most out of slower hardware, which is why specifications aren't that big of a deal here. But the trade off is that a lot of major desktop applications won't run here. You'll be better off using Google services such as Docs or Sheets. Some Android apps will run pretty well, but that's about it.

"Acer’s ChromeBox CX13 is one of the smaller desktop computers available, but it still packs a punch in spite of its shrunken size." — Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Final Verdict

The best mini PC you can buy today is Apple's Mac mini. The introduction of the M1 chip is game-changing in the computer industry. It's blazing fast, doesn't run hot, and can do basically anything you ask it. The computer runs macOS with the Rosetta 2 compatibility layer, allowing you to run all programs without issue. It's also fairly low cost compared to some other offerings in this list.


If macOS isn't your thing, we recommend you spring for the MSI Trident X Plus. It's an all-in-one solution that's ready to thrash. You can play games, run a VR headset, edit 4K videos, and more using this tiny box. It's the most expensive on our list, which is a downside, but if you want a Windows 10 mini PC, this is the best on the market.

About Our Trusted Experts

Adam Doud has written in the technology space for almost a decade. He's reviewed phones, tablets, laptops, and pretty much any other kind of consumer tech you can think of for a number of publications, including Lifewire.

Emily Ramirez has written for MassDiGI and the MIT Game Lab as a blogger and narrative designer. She is active in the innovative media scene, tinkering with the latest tech in XR to understand how the average consumer could benefit from it.

Andy Zahn has spent hundreds of hours researching and testing the latest PC hardware. He has been building and tinkering with computers of all descriptions since childhood. Andy follows the latest news in computer hardware with hawk-like interest, always looking out for the most beastly gaming PCs and bang-for-the-buck deals he can find.

Taylor Clemons has over three years of experience writing about games and consumer technology. She has written for IndieHangover, GameSkinny, TechRadar and her own publication, Steam Shovelers.

Jeremy Laukkonen is Lifewire's tech generalist with a background in trade publications. He reviewed the new Mac mini (M1, 2020) and came away impressed by its performance capabilities and reasonable price.

Erika Rawes has been writing for Lifewire since 2019. She's previously been published in Digital Trends, USA Today, Cheatsheet.com, and more. She specializes in the latest gadgets on the market, particularly smart home, streaming, and computing devices.

FAQ

Will mini PCs run hot?

Mini PCs can run hot, just like full towers. Most mini PCs are built with what's knows as passive cooling, which uses air flow to move heat away from the internal components. Due to this, some mini PCs cannot be set down on their sides, as that would impede airflow. Consult your manual to be sure of the proper setup of your computer.


Should I get a mini PC, all-in-one PC, or laptop?

That largely depends on your situation. Each offers a varying degree of portability and flexibility. The easiest to tote around is the mini PC, since most of them will fit into a bag or purse. The laptop is a little larger due to its battery and built-in screen, but you can set it down anywhere, open it, and get to work. The least portable is the all-in-one PC, which is most useful in dynamic working environments that don't change very often, but often enough that you don't want to have to move your entire setup. Just grab your monitor and go.


What is a VESA mount and why is it important?

Only one of our PCs had a VESA mount, but it's a cool addition to a computer that allows you to mount a mini PC to the back of a monitor. TVs and monitors use a mounting standard called VESA. If your mini PC has that, and you have a monitor with a stand and a VESA mount, you can mount the computer to the back of your monitor. It's a smart space-saver that more mini PCs should have.

What to Look For in a Mini PC

The world of the mini PC is a strange one, where size and style often win out over raw power, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore hardware specifications altogether. The process of finding and buying the best mini PC comes down to determining why you want a mini PC instead of a traditional desktop PC or laptop, what you need a mini PC for, and where you plan on using it. Once you’ve figured out those basic questions, you’ll be ready to focus down on more technical questions like system performance and hardware specifications.

What's inside - Mini PCs fill a certain niche for consumers, but not all mini PCs are created equal. Mini PCs can be just as much a hobbyist platform as a traditional desktop computer. As a result, a mini PC won't necessarily come with everything you need in the box. Be sure that all the components such as a hard drive and RAM are included.

Can it be upgraded? - Mini PCs usually fall into the category of not being upgradable. However, manufacturers have made a lot of progress in this area, to the point where some mini PCs are made for upgrades from the start. Some mini PCs don't even come with several of the internals that are needed to make a computer run. That's a good thing to know for the long term. If you outgrow your PC, you'll want to know your options.

What operating systems do you want? - We have seven mini PCs in this list running four different operating systems. Clearly this is a wide field, so be sure you know what GUI you'll be facing you once you power it up. That can be an easy thing to overlook if you're shopping, but be sure you don't. You'd hate to make a selection only to find out your computer runs an operating system you're not familiar with.

How is a Mini PC Different? 

Before you go any further, it’s important to understand that a mini PC is simply a personal computer (PC) that’s significantly smaller than the norm. Beyond that basic qualifier, you can find mini PCs that can act as full desktop replacements and competent gaming rigs, barebones systems that excel at streaming media, and low-powered pocket-sized computers that can’t handle much more than basic productivity tasks.

While there are a lot of affordable mini PCs out there, you can typically expect to pay somewhat of a premium for a mini PC compared to a full-sized computer with the exact same specifications. Mini PCs are also harder to upgrade, and some can’t be upgraded at all. So if you have the space for a full-sized computer, you can usually save some money and leave the door open for an upgrade in the future.

If you really need the portability of a mini PC, or your available space is really limited, then mini PCs are available to fit just about any need. Most mini PCs run either Windows or Linux, and a few run Chrome OS, but the venerable Apple Mac Mini, running macOS, also fits neatly into this category as well.

HP Pavilion Wave
Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Usage Scenarios: What Do You Need a Mini PC For?

Before you can choose the right mini PC, it’s important to think about why you actually need a mini PC. This is important because you can save money by just buying a regular PC if space isn’t an issue, but it also comes into play due to the wide variety of sizes and configurations found in the mini PC market.

Size and portability are probably your main concerns if you’re looking for a mini PC, so you may want to consider whether or not a small laptop might meet your needs. Unlike mini PCs, laptops come with a display and keyboard built right in. Laptops also have the option to run on battery power, which you don’t get with a mini PC. Most laptops also include an HDMI output, so you can always plug into a larger monitor whenever one is available.

If you’ve determined that a mini PC really does fit your needs better than a standard PC or laptop, then it’s time to start thinking about how you plan on using your mini PC.

One of the best uses for a mini PC is as a video and music streaming device. If that’s what you’re after, then you’ll want to look for smaller, lower-powered devices. Some of these mini PCs are so small that they can fit into the palm of your hand and plug directly into an HDMI input on your television.

If you’re after a desktop replacement or a gaming rig, but you’re dealing with limited space, then you’re looking for what has sometimes been called a booksize PC. These mini PCs are very small, often the size of a book, but they can pack a lot of hardware in that space.

Mini PCs that are designed for basic productivity tasks and light gaming bridge the gap between the previous two categories both in terms of performance and size, and they’re often quite affordable.

Lenovo Legion C530 Cube
 Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Size: Is Bigger or Smaller Better?

The most important consideration when choosing a mini PC is size, and the size of a mini PC is largely dictated by the power of the hardware. Smaller is typically seen as better in the mini PC sector, but there’s a limit to the power of the hardware that you can squeeze into a mini PC that isn’t much larger than a USB stick.

If you’re after the smallest of the small, then you will have to temper your expectations in terms of system performance. The smallest mini PCs are capable of basic productivity tasks, like word processing, web browsing, and email, and some of them are even capable of basic gaming.

If your needs are a little more demanding than that, then you’ll have to step up to a slightly larger mini PC. The term larger is relative, of course, since powerful booksize mini PCs that are able to act as desktop replacements and even competent gaming rigs are significantly smaller than your average desktop PC.

Basic Hardware: Choosing a System on a Chip or Upgradeable System

The general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t plan on upgrading your mini PC after buying it, because most of the computers in this category just don’t provide that option. This is especially true of system-on-a-chip mini PCs, which represent the smallest of the small. These mini PCs are remarkably small due to clever engineering that most of, if not all of, the components necessary for the computer to run on a single chip.

If you have more space to work with, then you may want to look at mini PCs on the larger end of the scale that actually include some upgradeable components. Depending on the system, you may be able to upgrade the RAM, onboard storage, or even components like the graphics card.

Mini PCs built on Micro ATX and Mini ITX motherboards are significantly smaller than standard PCs, but they typically allow you to upgrade at least some of the components over time to prolong the life of the device.

HP ProDesk 400 G4
 Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Processing Power: CPU and GPU

This is where you start to dig into system specifications, so it’s important to have a good idea of how you will use your mini PC if you want to make an informed decision. If you’re just looking for a basic productivity machine, then you can skimp on the CPU and go for a unit with integrated graphics.

If you want to use your mini PC as a streaming device, the CPU and GPU still aren’t that terribly important. You need a machine that’s powerful enough to stream, but you don’t really need to chase system specifications. Look for a mini PC that’s specifically designed to stream in full HD or 4K, depending on your television, and you’ll do just fine.

If you’re looking for a desktop replacement, or you want to play fairly new games, then you need to pay close attention to the CPU and GPU. Check the minimum and recommended system requirements for some of the games you’re interested in playing, and select a mini PC that meets or exceeds those requirements.

Memory and Storage: Internal Storage and RAM

Memory refers to random access memory (RAM), which is volatile memory that is used when the computer is on and lost when the computer is turned off. It’s useful for things like multitasking, because each program or app takes up memory while running, and it’s also essential for tasks like image and video editing, and gaming.

For a very basic mini PC that’s intended primarily for streaming, you want a minimum of 2GB of RAM, with a strong preference for 4GB or more. Basic productivity rigs should have at least 4 GB, with more required if you do tasks like image editing and video editing. If you want to play games, then look for a bare minimum of 8GB with a preference for 16GB or more, and check to see if there is any dedicated memory for the graphics. If there isn’t, the memory is shared, and it’s all the more important to go for a setup that includes 16GB or more of memory.
Storage refers to non-volatile memory that doesn’t go away when the mini PC is turned off. You may be familiar with this sort of memory as hard drive space, but most mini PCs don’t actually have hard drives. Solid-state drives take up less space, and some mini PCs have their non-volatile memory actually soldered right on to the mainboard.

The amount of storage you need in a mini PC depends on how you plan on using it. Mini PCs that are used primarily for streaming don’t need much memory at all, just enough for the operating system and a little left over to buffer videos.

More storage is needed if you plan on using your mini PC as a desktop replacement or gaming rig, although the specific amount is highly dependent on your own situation. Some people can get by just fine with 250GB of storage, while others will fill that up very quickly.

Check to see if the mini PC you’re interested in includes USB ports or a dedicated SD card slot. If it does, you can always add more storage with an external USB drive or an SD card.

HP Pavilion Wave
 Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Operating System: Windows, Linux, or even Chrome?

When choosing a mini PC, the operating system is really up to your own personal preference. If you’re familiar with Windows, then the path of least resistance is to choose a mini PC that comes with Windows preinstalled.

While Windows isn’t designed for use on streaming devices, and the interface is a bit cumbersome for that purpose, it works just fine if that’s what you’re used to. Linux has a steeper learning curve if you already aren’t familiar with it. It’s an acceptable choice for streaming devices, even if you don’t have a lot of Linux experience, but less so if you need to use your mini PC for productivity.

Chrome OS is a very simple operating system that’s built on Linux, so the learning curve is much gentler. If you use Google docs, Gmail, and the Chrome browser already, then you’ll find Chrome OS very easy to use for both streaming and productivity.

If you want to game on your mini PC, then Windows is the best choice. While a lot of games are available on Linux, Windows is still the platform of choice for PC gamers. 

Ports and Connectivity: Accommodating Inputs, Outputs, Peripherals, and More

If you have a specific need for some type of port or connectivity, then it’s important to keep that in mind when looking at mini PCs. The smallest mini PCs typically have built-in Wi-Fi, and some have built-in Bluetooth, but that’s typically it. If you need to plug in headphones, any USB devices, or additional monitors, the smallest mini PCs simply can’t accommodate any of that.

Mini PCs that trend toward the larger end of the scale still don’t have as many ports and connectivity options as your average-sized PC, but they do provide a whole lot of other options. You can find mini PCs with standard USB ports, USB-C ports, Ethernet ports, headphone jacks, and auxiliary audio outputs, and more.

To avoid headaches down the line, identify the peripherals you need to connect to your mini PC, write down all of the ports required by those peripherals, and use that to guide your decision-making process. You can get around some obstacles by adding accessories like USB hubs, but try to find a system that can accommodate your needs right out of the box if possible.

Lenovo Legion C530 Cube
 Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Accessories: Some Systems Need More Than Others

Mini PCs typically come with everything you need to get up and running right away, but there are some exceptions. Some systems are more barebones than others, so it’s important to check what comes in the box.

If your mini PC isn’t designed to plug directly into a TV or monitor, make sure it comes with an HDMI cable, and that the cable is long enough. Otherwise, you’ll want to pick up an HDMI cable of sufficient length.

Similarly, you’ll also want to make sure that your mini PC comes with an ethernet cable and that the cable is long enough, if it actually has an ethernet port.

If you’re starting from scratch, the bare minimum you’ll need to add to your mini PC to get it operational is a mouse, a keyboard, and a monitor. Some mini PCs have built-in Bluetooth for a wireless mouse and keyboard, or you can use a USB mouse and keyboard if the mini PC has enough free USB ports.

Brands/Manufacturers

Most of the well-known PC manufacturers you’ve heard of make at least one mini PC. 

Acer

While Acer is best known for their budget-priced laptops, they also have a decent slate of affordable desktop computers and some surprisingly competent mini PCs. If you’re looking for a mini PC that comes with Chrome OS installed instead of Windows for basic productivity or streaming 4K video, they have some intriguing options.

Asus

This is another manufacturer that’s better known for their laptops than desktop hardware, but that expertise in working with tight spaces translates quite well into the mini PC field. Their VivoMini line, in particular, is a series of great little barebones mini PCs that are quite affordable and come with some surprising features like VESA mounts that allow you to bolt directly to the back of a monitor.

MSI

This manufacturer made its name producing high-quality components like motherboards before moving into the surprisingly-affordable laptop market. Their products still tend to be a bit more affordable than the competition, and their mini PC options range from tiny booksize gear like the CubiN to the slightly larger, and much more powerful, Trident 3 gaming PCs.

HP ProDesk 400 G4
Lifewire / Emily Ramirez  

HP

This manufacturer has been one of the more popular desktop and laptop manufacturers for a long time, and they have some very interesting mini PC offerings. Prices tend to be fairly high, but some of their options, like the Pavilion Wave, pack in a whole lot of extra functionality.

Intel

Best known for furnishing CPUs to other manufacturers, Intel is also in the hardware game with a number of highly capable mini PCs. Their offerings range from powerful barebones kits that require you to finish building the system to surprisingly competent palm-sized mini PC sticks that plug directly into your monitor. 

Conclusion: How to Pick the Best Mini PC 

The mini PC category is fairly broad and services a lot of different usage scenarios, so it’s important to know what you need your computer to do before you start looking. Focus on your specific needs, whether that be streaming video, playing games, or just basic productivity, and then go from there.

Size is an important concern when selecting the best mini PC, because they’re available in a fairly wide range of sizes. If you’re dead set on a mini PC that will fit in your palm, for instance, your gaming options will be limited, as will your future upgrade options. So you have to figure out what you need your mini PC to do, and then find one that can accomplish those goals while still meeting your size constraints.

Performance and specifications are all predicated on the way you plan on using your mini PC, just like any computer. Go with a mini ITX system with a discrete video card if you want to play games now with the option to upgrade later, or a smaller, less expensive system on-chip if size is more important than performance.

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